It confuses many people but is a reliable reminder to others. I’m referring to the one o’clock time signal that blasts out daily from above H.L. Brown at Barker’s Pool.
Today it’s a quirky tradition, and a reminder of a time when the concept of time was a bit fuzzier.
The origin of the time signal goes back to 1874, when in Angel Street, Harris Leon Brown fixed and maintained a ‘Greenwich time ball’ – that was placed on a flagstaff outside his premises, and which by an electric current fell at exactly 1p.m., Greenwich mean-time.
Back then, – different towns tended to keep different times, and thus Greenwich Mean Time was established.
Back in Sheffield, the 1 o’clock Time Signal became a handy way for city workers to mark the end of their lunch breaks, though its position above the watchmaker was used to ensure that his timepieces were accurate.
The equipment was admired for two years, but electric signals in the open air were affected by the weather and its failure to ‘drop’ on several occasions caused it to be removed.
In 1876, he entered into an agreement with the Government to supply him daily for three years with the correct time. A wire connected his shop in Angel Street with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and at one o’clock every day the ball dropped with remarkable precision as the sixtieth part of a second.
In his window, Harris Brown displayed several English keyless chronometer watches, especially adapted for pocket timekeepers. All of these were regulated by the time ball placed outside his shop door.
In 1891, a ‘Greenwich mean time flashing signal and time bell’ was installed in the window of H.L. Brown at new premises at 71 Market Place. It was a synchronised clock with flashing signal and bell, showing mean time daily at 1p.m. and was unaffected by rain or snow.
The clock was 14 inches in diameter, and on either side were two open circles, about half the size of the clock dial.
The one on the left contained a ‘flashing signal’ – a disc of metal painted red, and finely balanced on a pivot. Throughout the day this disc remained with its edge towards the front and was almost invisible. But precisely at one o’clock in the afternoon (GMT) the electric current arrived, giving the disc a quarter revolution, and causing it to reveal its full face, and fill up the open circle, remaining in that position for two seconds.
Simultaneously, the time bell fixed in the open dial to the right of the large clock was struck, so that the electric current made its arrival known both to sight and sound.
To obtain this equipment, H.L. Brown had to enter a five year agreement with the Post Office and pay a large yearly subscription. They were the only watch manufacturer to receive this direct signal. He stated that one of the reasons for installing the equipment was because he had sold many watches from the Government observatory at Kew, and which were guaranteed to keep exact time.
By visiting the Market Place any day at one o’clock, he said that users could ascertain if their watch was ‘on time’ as accurately as by a visit to London.
H.L. Brown later moved to 65 Market Place, and along with it went his equipment. It was bombed in 1940 and the shop moved to 70 Fargate at the corner with Leopold Street.
The time signal was subsequently replaced with a siren, and this was relocated to its current position at Barker’s Pool when H.L. Brown’s Fargate shop was demolished in 1986 for the construction of Orchard Square.
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